Growing flame retardants controversy spurs call for rules reform

05 June 2012 20:39  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A growing controversy over flame retardants and state-level legislation banning those compounds emphasize the need for reform of US federal chemical control regulations, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said on Tuesday.

ACC president Cal Dooley told a group of state legislators that recent news reports challenging the efficacy and health impact of flame retardants, along with related legislative initiatives, “reaffirm ACC’s commitment to bipartisan reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)”.

TSCA, the principal US law governing chemicals in commerce, has not been substantially modified since it was enacted in 1976, and there is broad agreement among industry, environmental groups and many in Congress that the 36-year-old statute is badly in need of an update.

However, there has been little progress among industry officials, environmentalists and members of Congress in finding common ground for TSCA reform.

Legislation to modernise TSCA was introduced in the US House and Senate last year, but the bills were considered too radical by US chemical industry officials who saw in them an attempt by environmentalists to impose a European-style Reach programme in the US.

Dooley and other chemical industry leaders argue that the longer Congress delays dealing with TSCA, state governments will by default increase regulation of chemicals, resulting in an expanding patchwork of differing requirements across the country.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to a group of 21 state legislators from ten states, Dooley said that “there is a lack of confidence in EPA’s [the Environmental Protection Agency’s] ability to effectively regulate chemicals in commerce”.

“Because of this, even when chemicals have received federal regulatory approval, they are often subjected to attacks at the state level that breed misperceptions,” he said.

Dooley was responding to a letter from the state legislators in which they urged him to expel from the council three major manufacturers of flame retardants, Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products.

Citing a recent newspaper report about flame retardants and their own experiences in dealing with the issue in state governments, the legislators alleged “deeply unethical” practices by the three firms.

A four-part series of reports published by the Chicago Tribune in May this year alleged that flame retardants are ineffective and pose a health risk to humans, especially children. 

Dooley said that the three manufacturers “have great confidence in their chemistries, supported by substantial testing and studies on safety and efficacy”.

However, he said the three firms “understand that the questions raised in recent news stories should be addressed in order to dispel misinformation”.

He said each company plans to make available existing scientific information supporting the safety and efficacy of their flame retardants.

Albemarle, ICL Industries and Chemtura were asked on Tuesday to comment on the Chicago Tribune story and the legislators’ allegations. A spokesman for Chemtura said the company would respond, but the other two firms did not immediately reply to e-mail queries.  

By: Joe Kamalick
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